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Perceptions and Deceptions
Copyright A Strange Geek, 2009

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Story codes: mf, mF, Mf, MF, ff, fF, fsolo, teen, inc, oral, voy, mc, nc, toys, humil, magic

Perceptions and Deceptions -- Chapter 34 of 69

Jason sat on the floor with his back against the side of his bed, brooding and drowsing. Pages from Elizabeth's journal lay strewn about him, the Book tucked under his left hand.

His mother had kept "family night" going for far longer than he had wished, so much so that he had to miss Cassie's call. His mother had jumped on the phone as soon as it had rung, and she only grudgingly took a short message. He was to call her back later that night.

Audrey had then proceeded to tell Jason her opinion on teenagers calling each other "incessantly" and at "inappropriate" times. Only a protest from his father had stopped her from imposing a phone ban. Jason wanted to be thankful, but he could muster only suspicion for anything his father did for him.

Gratitude continued to escape him even when his father had intervened yet again just before Jason had retreated to his room. Audrey had admonished Jason to get to bed and not even think about staying up after making his belated phone call. Henry had chided her for treating Jason like a ten-year-old.

"He's responsible enough to know when to go to bed," Jason's father had said. "Unless you need me to get out all his report cards with the strings of A's on them to prove it."

Jason had studied his father's Aura through every confrontation. The patterns had become more methodical and coldly calculating. He could only assume that his father's apparent benevolence was working towards the man's own personal agenda.

Jason picked himself up and rubbed at a sore spot in his back. He had yet to call Cassie; he felt wrong going to her empty-handed.

He yawned and peered at the Book before grabbing the phone. After dialing the number, he fell into his chair before the computer and clicked over to the email he had received from Heather earlier that evening and stared at it.

"Hello?" came Cassie's sleepy voice at the other end. "Oh, is that you, Jason?"

"Sorry if I woke you," Jason said. He clenched his jaw against another yawn.

"No, it's fine, I was staying up to see if you called. I really needed to tell you what happened at the cemetery."

Jason listened. He swiveled away from the screen, a stunned look on his face. "Cassie, are you absolutely sure it's not Stephanie buried there?"

"Positive, Jason. What Richie 'heard' made no sense if Stephanie is buried there, but it makes perfect sense if it's someone else. She's alive, Jason, and she's probably somewhere in Haven, since my connection to people never extends beyond that."

Jason wiped his face with his hand. "This is nuts."

"That's not the half of it. If Ned's right in what he said about Gina Caligano, then the same thing is happening again! Mann is after Gina in the same way he went after Stephanie."

Jason wanted to protest that the dates didn't work, but he finally knew better than to apply his "old logic" to any situation in Haven. "There's one thing that still doesn't fit. You saw Stephanie in the flesh, so to speak. From what I gleaned from Mrs. Radson and some journal entries, that was the result of Presence, which normally comes from leftover energy of the deceased."

"There must be some other explanation for it. What concerns me more is how often this has happened before in Haven. Remember Richie's vision with Mrs. Sovert at the church? It makes more sense now if this is something that happens every year. It was very clear that Mrs. Sovert knew something about this."

Jason rubbed his eyes. "All right. I'll get on this. I'll see if anything else odd has happened around Halloween from 1985 to the present."

"Ned already did some looking. He didn't find a thing."

"I'm not going to look on the internet. I'm going to look in the school records."

Cassie sighed. "Melinda is not the only one that gets nervous when you do that."

Jason turned to his computer and opened a new browser tab, where he loaded the main webpage of Haven High. "Then don't look, because this is going to be the biggest break-in yet."


Jason paused as he used a browser plugin he had authored himself to run a pre-scripted set of exploits that would get him into the personnel system server. "Cassie, a typical high school produces mountains of paperwork. Grades, attendance records, truancy reports, medical records, student transfers, detention records, you name it. I have to grab all of them."

"But if Ned didn't find anything on the internet--"

"I'm working under the assumption that what happened with Stephanie was just the one we heard about," said Jason. "Mann made a mistake of some kind. Like Ned said, someone did a lot to make everyone forget about Stephanie Fowler."

"But if he did make a mistake that time -- and he's been covering it up perfectly since then -- you might not find anything in the records, either."

"Maybe. But Victor Mann can't be all-powerful or he wouldn't be so clandestine. If he had enough power to wipe every single possible record from existence, he would have just steamrolled over us. No, there has to be a limit to his abilities. We already know who his next victim is going to be, for instance. I can't imagine he intended us to find out about that."

Jason did not think anything about the silence on the other end of the line as his hacking tools reported success, leaving him logged in with administrator access on the central personnel system server. He started crafting a command to find the files he wanted.

"I'm going to try to get into Gina's dreamscape tonight," Cassie said in a hollow voice.

Jason paused. "Are you sure you want to do that?"

"I have to if I'm going to help her. Stephanie begged me to stop this from happening again."

"But aren't you worried that--"

"Jason, I'm terrified!" Cassie cried. Jason stopped typing. "I-I'm absolutely frightened out of my wits that I'll get into her mind and never get back out if Mann discovers me."

Jason stared at the Book on the floor. The eye seemed to stare at him in mockery.

"I'm afraid that if anyone helps me, they'll be pulled in as well," Cassie said. "I just don't know if this link is strong enough to--"

Jason stood and kicked the Book, sending it tumbling across the floor. "Dammit, I hate this thing," Jason growled.


"The Book! There's a ton of spells in it for doing what you and Heather want, but they always have some damn condition that we can't or don't want to meet."

"I don't understand, Jason. What about Heather? Is she all right?"

"Yeah, she's fine," Jason said, falling into his chair. He ran his hand through his mussed hair.

"I felt something earlier and warned Melinda about it," said Cassie.

"They're fine," Jason said, his voice more snappish than he had intended. "I don't want to go into the explanation right now, but Heather wants to know if we can use the spells in the Book to tap into the power from the energy lines."

Cassie gasped. "We can't do that."

"Yeah, I know, I know. I wish we could. Shit, Cassie, if we had just a little more power that we could share among all of us, we could get Victor Mann out of Diane's head, we could keep Terri Hollis out of Heather's head, and help you get into Gina's head."

Jason bit his lip in the ensuing silence, and wondered if she were thinking he had finally snapped, that he was going to give into temptation after all this time.

"I don't want to," Jason said into the unnerving quiet. "I don't like what we have to do for some of them. But ... but ..."

"We're just going to have to make do, Jason," Cassie said in a flat voice.

Jason cradled the phone between his jaw and shoulder and pulled the Book into his lap.


"Show me the spell that taps power from an energy line into a shared psychic link."

"Jason! What are you doing?!" Cassie cried above the frantic sound of pages turning.

"There's even a spell here for exactly what we want," Jason said. "Exactly what we want. Anything we could possibly want to do with the energy lines we can do with this Book."

"No, Jason."

Jason stared at the stark black text seared into the parchment pages. "It just ... it just requires a focus, someone that shares the link through whom we can channel the power."

Cassie paused. "And what else does it require?"

Jason let out a slow breath. One hand clutched the pendant that lay under his shirt. It felt warm against his chest. The fingers of his other hand tingled as they brushed the flowing letters of the arcane script. His eyes narrowed as he struggled to interpret the archaic English structure. "We need a ... a young virginal woman. Or at least a virgin as defined by 'not having known a man.' First, she needs to be enslaved ..."

"We're not doing that."

"... temporarily while she's to be the focus. Once enslaved, her virginity may be safely taken, but she must remain enslaved until the spell is performed. Once the spell rite begins, each of the others has sex with her in turn, but she doesn't cum until the last. When she does cum, the power is channeled, and she remains enslaved while ..."

"We are not doing this!"

"... channeling the power. The power stops once any of us releases her from enslavement. But she can be made a permanent focus if our collective will decides to keep her as a--"

"You are not using Diane again!"

Jason let go of the pendant and clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt. He slammed the Book closed and shoved it off his lap, letting it tumble to the floor with a jarring thud. He took off his glasses and let out a shaky sigh.

"That came out wrong," Cassie said in a small voice.

"No, it didn't," Jason said. He wiped his eyes. "Because that's what it would come to if we used the Book. We'd have to use each other to get at this power. I mean, if I looked hard enough, I might find something that has a condition we can tolerate."

"Jason, if ... if Diane were willing, it might be different, then--" Cassie stopped and let out a frustrated sigh. "Now I'm doing it. I'm trying to justify using this spell."

"It's hard not to when you're scared."

"Are you scared?" Cassie asked.

Jason was unable to answer. All the reasons for his fear sounded selfish to him. He was scared he would make the wrong decision, or that everyone would blame him if they failed, or that he would be forced into a confrontation with his own father.

"Jason, I ... it's late, and I need to get to bed so I can ..." She trailed off.

"I understand," Jason said in a voice of forced calm. "All right. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll figure out what we can do about these other problems then."

"Yes, okay. Well ... g-good night," Cassie said in a shaky voice.

"Good night."

The veil before her is nothing special, and Cassie is wary for that very reason. She steps forward and it parts for her, swirling away until it is daytime once more, and she stands in a classroom at Haven High. She gasps and recoils, nearly retreating into the gray-black, when she sees Terri Hollis.

Calm returns. This Ms. Hollis exists only in Gina's memories.

She looks down and sees Gina. She can sense the arousal as Gina flirts with Brad. As Cassie draws close, Gina's emotions ride the wave of Cassie's own feelings, and for a moment Cassie is lusting for Brad as well.

The scene shimmers, fades, and re-forms. Icy panic paralyzes Cassie when the object of her fear materializes before her.

Again, it is only a memory. It is Doctor Mann's office. Cassie stares in shock as Gina strips and "performs" for him. She is so overwhelmed by the feelings of obedience and desire that she is forced to back away until her revulsion overcomes both.

The scene shifts again, and now Gina is in her room. She strips once more, and Cassie senses anticipation and rising excitement. Soon Cassie stares in confusion as it turns to fear. Gina steps to the window, and fear becomes abject terror. Cassie trembles with the same emotions for which she cannot see any cause. It vanishes like a switch being thrown.

Another shift. Victor and Gina are at the dinner table, with a woman that Cassie knows is Gina's mother. Both mother and daughter are nude, and Cassie is uneasy. Unease becomes shock as Gina and her mother stand before Victor and Present to him. The word comes to Cassie though she does not hear it spoken, and she understands what it means.

The mother leads and Gina follows. Lean forward and show off the boobs. Lift them and show how supple they are, and how stiff the nipples. Spread the legs and show off the pussy. Spread the lips and see how moist and pink are the folds. Cassie is caught between mounting arousal from Gina and the sickening sight of mother and daughter made to act like whores before Victor.

Victor stands. Gina's mother drops to her knees, then all fours. Victor will have her. She is overjoyed and kisses his feet. Victor instructs Gina to sit and tells her, "Think about the reward your mother is going to receive." He leaves, and Gina's mother crawls after him.

Gina is left to sit alone, and Cassie has to pull back once more, her own pussy aching in sympathy with Gina's. Gina shivers and pants. The scene shimmers, and Victor is back. He sits and waits. Gina pauses, then stands and crosses the room. She kneels before him and offers herself, a hint of desperation to her plea.

Victor refuses but praises her. He sends her off to bed, granting her permission to masturbate for relief.

Cassie is so horrified that she almost does not notice when the dreamscape changes again. Now Gina is alone, lying in her bed. The room is supposed to be dark, but something around Gina's body casts a pale, silvery glow, like moonlight. Cassie recognizes it, and her heart pounds. It is the dream veil, the same thing she had seen around Ned, the gateway to Gina's psyche.

Cassie steps closer. It glistens like dew held in a spider's web.

Is this when Victor would sense her? Does he have a presence in Gina's mind as he had with Stephanie? Cassie could not stop now. The memories she has seen are passive, things that have happened and cannot be changed. She needed to access Gina's dreamscape.

Cassie steels herself and reaches a hand through the veil.

For a moment, she fears she has been lured into a trap. She feels a great rushing sensation, as if pulled forward at great speed. Just as she is about to seize the link to the Harbingers, she slams to a stop, and she is standing once more inside Haven High.

"Did I please you earlier, Brad?"

Cassie turns towards the voice. Gina stands by the lockers in the hallway, and Brad stands before her. It is an idealized Brad, his shoulders more broad and his face more handsome than Cassie remembers.

"Oh, yeah, Gina, I'll say," Brad says with a lustful smile.

Little more has manifested than this. No other students pass by. The reality fades to mist past a bubble encapsulating only Gina and Brad. Even the locker doors seem like rough sketches rather than a finished portrait.

"I hope I did it right," Gina says. "I so want to do this right."

"Oh, I loved it. Hey, lift your skirt for me again."

Cassie watches as Gina pulls up her skirt without taking her eyes from Brad. Her panties are pulled skin-tight against her mound, outlining her pussy in comic-book relief. She moans as Brad stares, and a dark stain floods over her crotch and trickles down her thighs.

"I love that wet pussy of yours," Brad says.

Cassie shivers at the perverted lust in his voice. A chill settles around her, like it had in Stephanie's mind.

"Do you want to see it?"

"Oh, yeah, show me."

Cassie gasps as Gina reaches under her skirt and pulls down her soaked panties. Gina is Presenting, just as Victor trained her to do.

"You're getting me hard, Gina," Brad says.

"You can have me."

Cassie stares, her eyes widening. Her icy cocoon grows colder still, and there is an unmistakable feeling of a presence lurking just beyond her sight.

Brad grins. "I can fuck you? Right now?"

"Yes, right now. I offer myself to you, as I should."

Is this what Stephanie dreamed about before ...?

"Yeah, you should," Brad says as he steps forward. "And it's getting you horny, isn't it?"

Gina moans. "Yes, it is. I need to share my sexuality with you. It's selfish of me if I don't."

"No, it isn't!" Cassie suddenly calls out.

Gina pauses and turns her head. Brad does not move. He remains where he was, frozen in a moment of dream-time. Gina looks at Cassie in confusion.

Cassie's heart pounds even as it threatens to become ice. From the distance come footsteps.

"Yes, it is," Gina says. "I must offer--"

"You don't have to offer yourself for anything! And you don't have to dress like ... like a slut, either."

Gina pauses again. Her eyes glaze. The footsteps are in the corridor, somewhere beyond the mist.

"More slutty, Gina," says Brad. "Look more slutty."

Gina stares at Brad. He is less distinct, as if her mind's eye can no longer focus on him. "More ... slutty ... yes ..."

"NO," Cassie cries. "You don't have to! You can decide what you want to wear or who--"

(step ... step ... STEP)

Cassie staggers back. Shoes rap against tile floor. She whimpers and stares into the illusionary distance. "Wake up ... wake up ... I have to WAKE UP!"

(STEP ... STEP ... STEP)

From the mist, a dark shape takes form. Cassie bites her lip hard to quell a scream and flees in the other direction. She plunges into the mist and shrieks when darkness envelops her. She runs blind into the dark, reaching out with her hands on either side to reassure her that something is still there. A wall, a support, an object, anything. She finds nothing.

Suddenly, the cold eases. The footsteps are gone. Drained and nearly hysterical, Cassie stumbles and falls to her knees. She pants into the absolute black.

"Hello?" comes a faint voice from the darkness.

Cassie holds her breath. Her heart thunders in her ears.

"Someone there?" the voice calls again, louder now.

Cassie looks behind her, then realizes it came from AHEAD of her.

"Stephanie? Is that you?" the voice calls out in a tone of desperate hope.

Cassie gasps. "What? No, I'm not Stephanie, I'm--"

She stops herself. She cannot say her name. She cannot give Victor any clue she is here.

"Are you my help?"

Cassie stands. The voice is closer. Now the darkness is not so absolute. A vague corridor stretches before her. She takes a few tentative steps forward, and it resolves itself. The walls and floor are roughly-hewn stone blocks. The air is dank, like a forgotten dungeon.

"Yes," Cassie says. "Yes, I want to help!"

Something runs towards her from the corridor ahead. Cassie begins walking towards it. Seconds later, the footfalls falter and stop, and unnerving silence descends.

Cassie stops. "What's wrong?"

The cold sweeps down the corridor from behind her, and in its wake: footsteps.

(step ... step ... step)

"He's here," the voice cries. "He's coming. I have to hide!"

Cassie hears running once more, fading into the distance, taking the light with it.

"Wait!" Cassie cries.

"Not now! I have to leave before he sees me! But I have a new place to hide now."

"I don't understand, what--"

"You have to leave!"

"I can't!" Cassie shrieks. "I tried! I can't wake up. I CAN'T ..."

Cassie uttered a gasp as her eyes flew open.

She did not stir or bolt. She refused to let the fear follow her to wakefulness. She waited for her heart and breathing to slow, then sat up. The room was still dark. By the clock on her night table, it was nearing two in the morning.

Cassie let out a tremulous breath and dropped her face into her hands as she was struck by the full force of what she had witnessed in Gina's mind. She shivered at the idea that a similar fate had befallen Stephanie before the poor girl had disappeared and was forgotten.

Her cell phone warbled. She jumped out of bed and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Ya okay, babe?" came Ned's soft voice over the phone.

"Yes, I'm fine." She sat down on the edge of the bed. "As fine as I can be after what I just saw."

"Crap. That bad, huh?"

"It's not just her, Ned, but her mother as well!"

"Whoa. He's goin' fer both of 'em?"

"No, worse. The sense I got was that her mother was already Victor's slave. If anything, she's actually helping him get Gina!"

Ned let out his breath. "Shit. Are we too late to do anything about this?"

"I don't know." Cassie wrapped her nightgown around herself. "Ned, this was too easy. I got into Gina's mind with very little trouble, and then it was as if some part of her was expecting me."

"Wait, what?"

"That was my reaction, too. And then ..." Cassie shivered. "... th-then I heard the footsteps again. It had to be Victor. I finally woke up in time before he got close enough to see me."

"Ya think this was some sorta trap?"

Cassie sighed. "I don't want to think that, Ned, because if what I heard was true, then there's some part of Gina that's still resisting him. She's not been caged up yet like Stephanie."

"Caged up? Oh, ya mean like in yer other dreams? I thought that was jus' a metaphor."

"Not completely. I mean, yes, it's symbolic, but it means that some part of Stephanie's psyche is completely restrained. She's just a passenger in her own head."

"Oh, man, that's a freakin' creepy thought."

"But if this wasn't just some sort of setup, then it's like Gina's psyche has been split. Part of her -- a big part -- is playing along with what Victor wants of her, and the other is trying to resist it."

"Well, that's better than what happened ta Stephanie."

"Goodness, Ned, as much as I never wanted those dreams in previous years, now I want to contact Stephanie again. We should try to help her as well if we can. I can't imagine how terrible it is to be locked up in your own head like that."

"Yeah, 'specially if she's right here in town. Hate the idea of jus' leavin' her. But nothin' we can do right now 'bout it, not if we wanna help Gina."

"I know. It just sounds too much like when Mara told the others to stay out of Melissa's way. I can't help but wonder if this is something similar, that we ignore Stephanie at our own peril."

"I dunno what ta tell ya, babe," Ned said.

"I don't think I was looking for answers, just a chance to say what I was thinking." Cassie let out a long sigh. "I'm sorry if I woke you, Ned, I didn't think I had tried to use the link. I was really holding that in reserve."

"Yeah, but we all got a sorta sixth sense now 'bout each other. Though I'm thinkin' it's stronger between those that, well, generated a lot of horizontal energy, if ya know what I mean."

Cassie smiled.

"So, um ... mebbe it's good after all that ya, um, ya know ... with Jason."

"I hope you mean that, Ned," Cassie said. "I've started to come to terms with this, at least where Jason is concerned. We both talked about it earlier today, and I feel a little better about it."

"I'll be okay, babe. I jus' ain't gonna be thinkin' too hard on it for a bit."

Cassie hesitated, then said in what she hoped was an obviously teasing voice, "You're going to be too busy with Heather to think too much on it."

Ned fell into stark silence until Cassie giggled. "I don't believe ya said that," Ned said, half in jest and half in genuine surprise.

"I think learning that I really don't communicate with the dead has been a huge relief," said Cassie. "You can't imagine how much that was upsetting me."

"I guess I really didn't have an appreciation for it."

"Don't worry about it. There's no way you can really understand completely what it's like to have this power."

"Well, I better get goin', I jus' heard the old man flush the john," Ned said in a lower voice. "Better get back ta my room before he decides ta care that I'm gone."

Cassie noted Ned's choice of a key word, and her heart ached. "All right, I'll see you in the morning. Good night."

"Night, babe."

Cassie closed her cell phone and set it down on the night table. She slipped back into bed and lay her head on the pillow, but sleep was slow in claiming her once more.

Cassie falls into deep dream-time, and her Gift's senses open.

A part of her still waits with lingering trepidation for contact from Stephanie, a lingering doubt which still fears that the forlorn girl in the cage is really a trap. Instead, her consciousness flits into dreamscapes and memories more mundane.

She sees a cheerleader from Haven High lament over a breakup with her boyfriend earlier that day. She sees the wizened driver of Jason's school bus ranting about how things were better when "old Ronnie" was president. She sees a local councilman recalling his extramarital sex earlier that morning.

Suddenly, she feels a tug, and then the sensation of flying down a corridor. She sees a man inside a rig, driving his eighteen-wheeler along a lonely road that skirts a steep rise of rock. Yet it is still dark outside the window of his cab, as if she were seeing the man's present instead of his memories.

The driver yells an expletive and wrenches the steering wheel of his rig, blasting the horn. In the headlights, a teenage girl appears in the middle of the road.

Brakes squeal and metal groans. The back end of the rig fishtails, tilts, then bangs back down with a teeth-rattling thump as all wheels make contact again. The driver is panting, his knuckles as white as his face as he brings the rig to a shuddering stop.

He looks up. Somehow, the girl is okay. She walks away as if nothing has happened. The driver leans out his window. "Hey! Hey, you! What the fuck were you doing?!"

"Don't worry about me," the girl says.

"Yeah, great, you fucking almost get run over and--"

"Focus on the other."

"Huh? What the fuck are you ... where did you--?! Oh man ..."

And before his eyes, she has vanished.

Cassie is yanked from this dreamscape and hurtles down the corridor once more, a vast tunnel of soft pastel lights glowing and spinning. Now she sees a night watchman at a warehouse. His flashlight swings to and fro as he marches down an aisle, tall stacks of electronics piled far over his head on either side. "Who's there?" he demands. His light catches something. Ahead of him stands a teenage girl.

The watchman pauses, nonplussed. "Who are you?"

"I won't appear anymore," she says.

"Well, that's just peachy. Maybe before you 'disappear' you can tell me how the hell you got in here."

"I saved my energies for this and I have little more."

"Look, missy, you're gonna tell me who you ... what?! You were just--!"

The girl has vanished.

Once more, Cassie rockets down the ethereal passage. Energy flows, eddies, and coruscates around her, like a river racing downstream. Ahead, a bright but diffuse glow races towards her, the colors along the sides of the tunnel blurring and melting into each another. In its center lies something dark, with whorls of sinister inky black twisting and undulating ...

And now Cassie sees a woman sipping herbal tea in a vain attempt to combat insomnia. She putters about her house, until she stops at her living room window and looks out. She stares into the dark, a figure standing in her front yard silhouetted against the light from a street lamp.

The woman's heart pounds as she fights down panic. The figure does not move. She creeps to the front door and opens it a crack. "Who's out there? Who are you? I-I warn you, I have a gun!"

A voice emerges from the dark. "You'll have to learn how to do this yourself."

"Wh-what? How ... Learn what?"

"The veil is weak. Use it."

"You sound like ... I-I've had enough of this!"

The woman pulls open the door and flips on the porch light. Standing on the lawn is a teenage girl.

The woman feels relief one moment, and righteous anger the next. She marches from her front step and across the lawn, pulling her robe closed against the biting chill. She shakes a finger at the girl. "Now you listen here, young lady. Why are you standing on my lawn and--"

And then Cassie recognizes her. It is Stephanie.

In the next instant, she vanishes. The woman flees back to her house screaming.

Cassie floats in the tunnel once more. Energy surges and thrums around her. She feels as if she is tethered, that the glowing light-dark knot in the distance would draw her in if she were unfettered.

Suddenly everything races away from her, the strange light receding until she can no longer see the evil tendrils of black within it. She rises, flying out the tunnel and drawing up into a brightening vortex.

Cassie gasped as her eyes flew open.

She sat up in bed, her heart pounding and breath heavy not so much from fear or anxiety as sheer exertion. She placed her hand over her heart and closed her eyes until she calmed down.

When she opened them again, she saw that dawn was breaking outside. The first rays of sunlight struck with stark brilliance on the snow outside Cassie's window past the long shadow of the mansion.

Cassie got out of bed. She had no idea what had just happened to her. She knew only that it was like nothing she had ever experienced in her life.

Jason yawned and dropped into the chair before his computer, rubbing his bleary eyes before slipping his glasses over them. Going to bed so late and being jolted awake near two in the morning had not been conducive to slumber.

He sighed as he saw that the downloads were still running. He had to throttle them back so that the excess network activity would not be noticed. He would be forced to leave his PC on while he was at school. His mother hated that, and she would often simply flip the power switch off when she found it that way rather than shut it down properly.

He turned off the monitor, gambling that his mother would take nothing more than a brief glance into his room. He arranged his chair to attenuate the sound of the tower case cooling fan.

As he turned, he saw a corner of the Book sticking out from under his bed. He was about to nudge it with his foot when he instead dropped to his knee and picked it up. It felt heavier, as if it had gained more pages during the night.

Jason frowned as he recalled his conversation with Cassie and imagined the extra weight was his own guilt. He looked back at the computer and wished he could stay home to see the results.

Your approach is all wrong.

Jason's eyes snapped to the Book and its faintly glowing eye. "I didn't ask you."

You have what you need in your hands.

Jason dropped the Book and shoved it hard under the bed. He straightened up, grabbed the strap of his book-bag, and barreled towards the door.

You make it harder than it needs to be.

Jason was startled enough at the clarity of the voice that he stopped and turned. He reached under his shirt and pulled out the pendant. Pale gold light glowed from the ethereal eye inside the pentagram.

"Is this how it works?" Jason asked, forcing his voice to remain calm. "Is this how others get tempted to do more with the Book? Is that why last night I--"

He did not complete the thought. He could not blame the Book for his own failings. Its very existence had tempted him and the others long before anyone could hear it "speak." It did not need to rely on magic or the supernatural, only human nature.

"The Book doesn't care about who uses it, so long as it gets used," Jason said in a measured tone. He refused to address it in the second person any longer. He did not want to anthropomorphize the Book and give it life that it did not have.

It did not reply. The light and the eye faded from the pendant.

"I'll decide how to use it and when to use it. If at all."

You will use it.

Jason picked up his book bag and headed out the door. Under the bed, the pale light from the eye faded as the Book emitted another thought, one that Jason sensed only as a vague twinge in the back of his subconscious.

You will have no choice.

Melinda emerged from the bathroom after her shower cursing under her breath. She spared her sister only a brief glance before rummaging through her book-bag and throwing a textbook and notebook onto her bed. She jumped after them, bouncing a few times on the mattress, her breasts dancing under her until she was still. She opened both books to do the assignment she had forgotten to do the night before.

She again turned her head towards her big sister. Heather finished dressing, her eyes staring straight and unfocused as if tranced. She glanced once at Melinda but her eyes remained distant. She picked up the hair brush from her dresser.

Melinda continued with her assignment for a few minutes, then looked at Heather again, frowning. She turned onto her side and bared her front at Heather. After another minute, she flipped herself onto her back, spreading her legs just enough to expose her pussy. She held the textbook open above her, turning to her side occasionally to answer the next exercise question in the notebook.

After she finished her assignment, she slammed the books closed and jumped off the bed. Heather had finished her hair and was rearranging the contents of her book-bag. Melinda issued a loud sigh as she trudged to her dresser. She yanked out a pair of panties and pulled them up her legs, setting them in place with a snap of the waist band. "Okay, so what's with you?"

Heather blinked and stared, as if Melinda had just materialized out of thin air. "Huh?"

Melinda pulled on her bra and reached behind her to hook it closed. "This is the first time I've been able to get my underwear on without you making some sort of lewd comment or screwing with my head. What gives?"

"I just have things on my mind, okay?" Heather said in an irritated voice.

Melinda tugged her bra straps and adjusted the cups, though from the annoyed look on her face, she still did not achieve the comfort she wanted. "You still upset about Diane?"

"Yeah, but that's not it. I got another vision just before I woke up this morning."

Melinda paused with her jeans in her hands. "About the Book?"

"No, about you."

"Me? Why?"

"I don't know why I get them, runt, I just know what I see."

Melinda rolled her eyes as she stepped into her jeans. "Well, what did you see? I'm not in trouble, am I?"

"I don't know. I saw you in a room somewhere. You were naked and horny as hell. I mean, so horny it looked painful."

Melinda wrinkled her nose as she pulled up her jeans. "That better not be you messing with me."

"Don't be stupid. Why would I get a precog about that? I mean, I think it was a precog, I'm not sure. It didn't make any sense."

"Why, what else did you see?"

"You were restrained somehow."

Melinda frowned. "You better not be dreaming about me and Richie! He can forget about ever boinking me again if he tries that on me."

Heather smirked. "So you're gonna do it with him?"

"Like I have a choice," Melinda grumbled as she pulled a shirt from the dresser.

"Come on, you can't tell me that you're not looking forward to it even a little."

"Look, don't make me think about it now, okay? I want to see if I can make a new record today: most number of hours that my panties actually stay dry."

Heather nodded, her grin fading. "Sorry. But I'm worried about what the vision means."

"You're worried? Did you see anything else, like who was doing it to me?"

"No, nothing."

"I thought your visions were supposed to be more clear now."

"I never get the whole picture until I get closer to when it will happen, even with the best visions."

Melinda pulled on her shirt, stretching it over her breasts. "You should be getting visions about yourself. You're the one that's going to have to be in detention with Ms. Hollis. Alone!"

"I'm hoping that means I'll be able to resist whatever she does to me." Heather closed her book-bag and slung it over her shoulder. "You almost done? I have to talk to Mom before we go."

Melinda crossed the room and gave her sister a wary look. "Why?"

"Because I have to tell her I have detention."

Melinda snorted. "Like she would care. She's probably hoping Ms. Hollis turns you into a slave."

"Remember when I told her that I had to go to the Halloween party, and she let something slip?" Heather said. "I'm hoping she does it again. Maybe it will give me a clue as to what Ms. Hollis is up to."

Melinda grabbed her book-bag and grumbled under her breath what she really thought of the idea. They bounded down the stairs and paused in the dining room. "Mom?" Heather called out towards the kitchen. "I need to talk to you."

Penny Sovert emerged, a robe wrapped about her body. She glanced towards Melinda, who glared in return. Penny let a tiny sigh escape through her nose before she turned her gaze back to Heather. "What is it, dear?"

"I'll be leaving school late today, Mom. I've got detention."

Penny folded her arms and stared hard at her older daughter. "Why?"

"Bad classroom performance, I guess."

"You guess?"

"It's with Ms. Hollis, Mom."

Penny hesitated. Melinda's eyes darted over her mother's Aura. It remained quiescent.

"I'm not sure how long it will be, so--"

"What exactly are you being punished for?" Penny demanded. "I want to know the exact incident that precipitated this."

"Why, so you can get off on it?" Melinda blurted.

"Melinda!" Heather hissed.

"Melinda, go to the bus stop," Penny snapped. "And before you come back with some crack like 'make me,' realize that I can take away your remaining privileges."

"You mean like my free will?" Melinda said.

"I mean, like your ... it doesn't matter, Melinda, just go and let me talk to your sister alone!"

"Melinda, please, you're not helping by making her upset," Heather said.

Melinda cast a frustrated look at both her sister and her mother before stomping to the door. She slammed it behind her as she barreled out of the house.

Penny turned back to Heather. "Now, Heather, please tell me--"

"I don't know what caused it, Mom. Look, let's stop pretending, okay? You know she's been going after me all week. This is just another excuse to do it where she can get me alone."

Penny looked stunned, though only for a moment. Her Aura swirled and pulsed around her in its usual sedate manner. Now Heather was starting to believe that Ned was right, that Terri Hollis had her own agenda which had nothing to do with the Darkness or Victor Mann. "Heather ... honey, do you want me to do something about this?"

Heather gave her mother a confused look. "Huh?"

"I will talk to your teacher for you. She shouldn't be doing this to you."

"Why shouldn't she?"

"This ... this isn't something that should be happening to you."

Heather wanted to retort "because someone else has already been picked," but she wanted to play dumb. "Yeah, well, there's a lot that shouldn't be happening in this stupid town. I have to go before I miss the bus."

She headed towards the door, but Penny grabbed her arm. Heather wrenched it free, but turned towards her mother and remained still. "What did I tell you about not getting involved? Why can't you just listen to one thing I tell you? Did it ever dawn on you, Heather, that maybe I want to protect you from some of the things going on in this 'stupid town?'"

"You just don't get it, Mom. It doesn't matter whether I get involved or not. The town involves me no matter what I do."

Penny remained silent, her eyes shimmering.

Heather sighed and shook her head. "Wake up, Mom. It doesn't matter. The only difference is now or later."

Heather gave her mother's Aura one more look before heading out the door.

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